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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

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though Weierstrass complains about this outrageous practice
in letters to Sonja his chagrin is not over the petty pilfering of
his ideas but of their bungling in incompetent hands and the
consequent damage to mathematics. Sonja of course never
descended to anything of this sort, but in another respect she
was not entirely blameless. Weierstrass sent her one of his
unpublished works by which he set great store, and that T^as
the last he ever saw of it. Apparently she lost it, for she dis-
creetly avoids the topic - to judge from his letters - whenever
he brings it up.
To compensate for this lapse Sonja tried her best to get
Weierstrass to exercise a little reasonable caution in regard to
the rest of his unpublished work. It was his custom to carrv
about with him on his frequent travels a large white wooden
box in which he kept all his working notes and the various
versions of papers which he had not yet perfected. His habit
was to rework a theory many times until he found the best, the
^natural' way in which it should be developed. Consequently he
published slowly and put out a work under his own name only
when he had exhausted the topic from some coherent point of
view. Several of his rough-hewn projects are said to have been
confided to the mysterious box. In 1880, while Weierstrass was
on a vacation trip, the box was lost in the baggage. It has never
been heard of since*
After taking her degree in absentia from Gottingen in 1874,
Sonja returned to Russia for a rest as she was worn out by
excitement and overwork. Her fame had preceded her and she
*rested* by plunging into the hectic futilities of a crowded social
season in St Petersburg while Weierstrass, back in Berlin, pulled
wires all over Europe trying to get his favourite pupil a position
worthy of her talents. His fruitless efforts disgusted him with
the narrowness of the orthodox academic mind.
In October 1ST5 Weierstrass received from Sonja the news
that her father had died. She apparently never replied to his
tender condolences, and for nearly three years she dropped
completely out of his life. In August 1878 he writes to ask
whether she ever received a letter he had written her so long
before that he has forgotten its date. 'Didn't you get my letter?